Britpop's new movers and shakers
Kula Shaker could be the Next Big Thing: but first they'll be groomed by the image makers. Can they remain unfazed by the 'creative' advice of stylists, photographers and hairdressers?
Tuesday 23 July 1996
They have just claimed their place among the new and ever evolving breed of Britpoppers. Their music has its roots in Sixties psychedelia with sitars, angelic vocals, and heavy guitars, but its heart is firmly in the Nineties. "Tattva" (their second single) went into the top five and currently sits at 17, and with their first album, K, due for release in September, music pundits are waiting to see if the band, which comprises Crispian Mills, (singer, songwriter, guitar), Jay Darlington, (organ), Alonza Bevin (bass, vocals), and Paul Winter-Hart (drums) will hit the big time.
Between now and the release of their album, Kula Shaker will be undergoing some Image Work. For their first appearance on Top Of the Pops three weeks ago they wore their own clothes. A mix of shirts and jeans in various shades of grey and black, the only flash of colour was an old band T-shirt worn by the drummer, Paul. "First I thought we could all go naked," Crispian says, "but that's been done hasn't it?" Their experience on Top of the Pops was a surreal one. "It felt really fake," Crispian continues, "like a pretend programme put on just for us - a forgery." But it was real and millions of potential new fans saw the foursome on national TV for the first time. They didn't want a stylist; a friend, Paula Keenan, helped by sourcing a few items for them from markets, and as she's a friend Paula knows what they will like or dislike. However, Alonza insists, "We'd shoot a stylist who tried to put us in something weird. One tried to put us in orange fun fur - and we were like 'No Way'."
When a band is being groomed there are various areas that need attention. Hair stylists will advise on cuts and styles: a regular contributor to the Independent's fashion pages, Adam Bryant, is now the band's hairdresser. He says "I won't touch Jay's hair because it's perfect, but Paul and Alonza need to grow theirs a bit; Crispian's was a bit too long, so I just neatened it up." Photographers will shoot them in suitable lights and poses, and the stylist will be on hand with clothes galore to give the band the right image. Kula Shaker are open for input from experts, as long as it is the right advice. They are fortunate in that their record company Columbia is not pressurising them into conforming to the "four boys in a band" stereotype. In fact in the picture shown here they styled themselves.
An individual's taste for music is - like fashion - personal. It relates to their age, where they live, their upbringing, aspirations, sentimentality and ethics. The same rules apply to a band and their committed fans. The band becomes like the friends you could have, they are like the kind of people you know. It's the same as asking a friend who their music idol of the moment is, it can tell you a lot about them (if you know who they are talking about). For example, fans of the reincarnated band Everything But The Girl are a different breed to a Rage Against the Machine Fan, and this translates from musical taste to taste in clothes. EBTG fans probably wish they could afford Prada, (Tracey Thorn is a fan). RATM fans wouldn't be seen dead in Prada just as EBTG girl fans wouldn't be seen dead in 12-hole Dr Marten boots.
Similarly, Noel and Liam Gallagher have revolutionised men's fashion in this country since their rise to the pinnacle of pop success. Men everywhere have cultivated similar haircuts and dress in similar clothes. But what came first, Noel and Liam or The Look? Any Mancunian will tell you it was The Look. One Mancunian "lookalike" (wearing a high-topped yachting jacket, Hush Puppies and little round shades) said, "We've always dressed like this, and so have the Oasis boys, they just gave the look more relevance". Oasis and their fans are one and the same. They are connected, and the connection is easy: if you can look like them, you can be like them.
Last Thursday as the Phoenix Festival was kicking off at Long Marston, near Stratford, Kula Shaker were preparing to headline on the Dr Marten Stage with a 45 minute set. We met them there after a day of blazing heat and five hour traffic jams.
They are dressed like extras from the cartoon Scooby Doo, in authentic trainers and second-hand or borrowed clothes. Jay's shirt was borrowed from a friend who customised it with added-on epaulettes from another shirt. The band could easily have blended with the crowd, and indeed were swallowed up into a sea of Adidas T-shirts, Levi's and Monkees haircuts after the gig. Which proves at this stage in their careers that they are happy as they are. Their only style application is "an adherence to the collective individuality and philosophy of Sixties chic," according to Crispian who adds "we don't need to invent ourselves, we already exist". A look at the crowds watching them play confirmed this.
For the stylists whose job it is to "do the bands" it is a constant battle of wills. The average band (ie, one that is not manufactured) generally stick to what they feel comfortable in, and what their fans can identify with. It is the stylist's job to keep them one step ahead. For Kula Shaker there's no rest. They will go on gigging across the country, and as for the future, they're thinking of wearing green wellies and boater hats on the cover of their new album.
Kula Shaker play The Room, Hull, 30 July; The Foundry, Birmingham, 31 July; The Astoria, London, 1 August; Knebworth (supporting Oasis) on 11 August; Middlesbrough Arena, 16 August; Chelmsford, 18 August; The Crypt, Hastings, 23 August and Reading, 24 August.
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